The Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee will meet Wednesday to make critical decisions on whether to support two bills to overhaul the troubled MaineCare rides program, which has been riddled with problems such as missed or delayed rides for thousands of low-income patients.

The committee’s actions could lead to changes in the status of the two private companies hired last year to book rides for MaineCare enrollees with local nonprofit transportation groups, said Rep. Richard Farnsworth, D-Portland, the panel’s House chairman.

Farnsworth said one company, Connecticut-based Coordinated Transportation Solutions, or CTS, remains the priority for the committee. But he said the group will also be examining the service provided by the second company, LogistiCare, which operates in York County.

“CTS is certainly a high priority. I wouldn’t say that LogistiCare isn’t on the radar screen,” Farnsworth said on Friday. “It may be time to put both LogistiCare and CTS on the block. Many of the local organizations think they might be successful in bidding.”

The MaineCare transportation program, which costs $40 million a year and is funded largely by the federal government, serves about 45,000 low-income Maine residents. It provides transportation to nonemergency medical appointments, such as doctor’s office visits and trips for therapy or lab tests.

Local nonprofit agencies once handled the entire program, both booking the rides and delivering patients to and from their appointments. But after the federal government raised concerns about accountability, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services revised the system.

The state sought bids for ride brokering services from private companies, partly in order to maintain a higher level of federal funding.

But when the new system went into effect last Augusts, problems developed immediately, as thousands of patients missed appointments, arrived late or were left behind as a result of miscommunication or other problems involving the brokers and transportation providers.

While most of the complaints have centered on the Connecticut company, CTS, Atlanta-based LogistiCare has seen an increase in complaints in the past month. The increase occurred after LogistiCare lost the services of one of its main transportation providers, York County Community Action.

One bill under review, L.D. 1636, sponsored by Sen. Colleen Lachowicz, D-Waterville, is modeled after a system used in Vermont, where locally controlled providers are allowed to operate under certain restraints detailed in federal law. That proposal would give local transportation providers a much better chance of winning state contracts and getting back into the business of arranging and providing rides.

NEW BIDDING RULES FOR ALL?

The second measure the committee will weigh is L.D. 1663, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, which would cancel the current contract with CTS.

The state Department of Health and Human Services previously announced it would not be renewing CTS’ contract, worth $28.3 million. However, lawmakers could enact more sweeping changes to the rides program, which could affect LogistiCare as well.

DHHS said it will not be issuing requests for proposals for the regions of the state served by the two other providers – LogistiCare, which serves York County, or Penquis, which serves Piscataquis and Penobscot counties. The contracts expire June 30.

Although Maine switched to the regional broker system to comply with federal rules for transparency and accountability designed to prevent fraud, the state had wide latitude to devise a system and could have kept its network of local nonprofits arranging and providing rides.

Farnsworth previously said that the new bidding rules DHHS is considering for the CTS regions should also be in play in York County, which would give York County Community Action a fighting chance to win the contract that begins in July. Before the new system started, the York County agency was part of a network of local groups that worked directly with the state to provide rides for MaineCare patients.

“LogistiCare should not be considered the golden child,” Farnsworth said previously.

The York County agency had provided about half the drivers for LogistiCare but stopped working with the company on Feb. 7. To offset the loss of the agency, LogistiCare bought vehicles and is expanding its network of volunteer drivers.

“There are those who would say that LogistiCare is not doing a good job. People have not have good experiences with LogistiCare,” Farnsworth said Friday.

When asked about LogistiCare’s performance before and after the York County agency worked with the company, the DHHS said complaints have increased in the past month. It did not provide specific numbers or dates of the complaints.

“We have seen an increase in complaints in the last month, which one might expect with the major transportation provider in the region making the decision to no longer do business,” DHHS spokesman John Martins said in statement. “Even with the increases, LogistiCare is still meeting its contractual obligations in terms of the rate of complaints, which must not exceed one complaint per 100 enrolled members.”

Martins added that “the broker is working diligently to secure drivers and other transportation resources to minimize the impact of York County Community Action’s decision to no longer provide transportation services.”

LOGISTICARE FIGHTS BACK

LogistiCare took out two full-page advertisements in the Portland Press Herald on Friday to address state legislators and York County members of MaineCare. The advertisements outlined its efforts to expand service and tout its service record.

LogistiCare’s ads also said a return to the previous system, in which local nonprofit providers – rather than brokers – contracted directly with the state to provide rides for MaineCare members would be a step backwards.

Robert Harrison, LogistiCare’s senior vice president of operations, said the timing and motivation for the advertisements came from the recent transition away from the York County agency to other service providers and the work session on Wednesday of the Health and Human Services Committee.

Harrison said LogistiCare was confident its contract for York County, worth $5.1 million, would be renewed.

“Our performance has demonstrated that access has improved. We know we’re not perfect, but we’re proud of what we’ve been able to do in six months,” Harrison said in an interview.

York County Community Action’s executive director, Barbara Crider, said that group would be interested in bidding for the York County contract if the state put that portion up for bid.

Staff Writer Joe Lawlor contributed to this story. 

Jessica Hall can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:

jhall@pressherald.com

Twitter: @JessicaHallPPH